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Whatever peace a night in the middle of the desert could possibly have, on this night, there was none to be found. It had been two days, since they were hiking in these shifting sands, Griswold had expected an arduous journey, but a small part of him had looked forward to the nights away from city streets. He imagined sipping whisky by a fire, staring out over the endless sea of golden waves, admiring the way the twinkling night sky seemed to reach down in the distance, and kiss the crest of the dunes. He spent infinite hours on that damned boat rocking back and forth, trapped with all those damned sailors, as they floated endlessly down that damned river. All the time, he was comforting himself with the apparently ludacris notion that once they got properly lost in the sands, he would finally have some space to think.

Fuckin’ pipe dream… Griswold muses, sitting closely against the back flap of the canvas tent, thinking of how far he is from the rollicking tomb raiding adventure he had hoped for.

The wind blows unfettered over featureless mountains of sand, howling through a pitch black night, as the cold of the desert night seeps through the tents’ canvas walls. Huddled in his tent beside a battered oil lantern, Griswold tries to ignore the sound of the wind whipping past, making futile attempts to make out the voice of his companion outside, the edged hiss of his voice barely rising above the din. He shivers, checking a silver pocket watch, watching the minute hand tick past midnight.

Cannae believe the bastards still at it…

R’viers voice was defensive, almost frantic, but Griswold couldn’t make out what he was saying. It was as though he were getting only one side of a conversation. He peeked out his tent flap, his companion seated alone by a dying fire. His fervent mumblings went unanswered by all, but the crackle of burning firewood. Griswold began to come out of his tent, but stopped himself. The desert was playing tricks on them, probing the recesses of their mind.

He let the flap fall back in front of his face. The familiar creep of indecision and fear beginning to grow in the back of his mind. He knew the desert would be coming for him next. He reached into his coat, produced a leather wrapped silver flask, his hand trembling as he unscrewed the top, and brought it to his lips.

Booze in a bloody desert,” He chastised himself, “Maybe I do have a problem…

He silently listed all the different things the desert could show him, as the liquor traveled down his throat doing its best to warm his chilled blood. Jax, and the disappointment in his molten eyes? His mother and the oppressive sadness radiating off of her, as she left? Perhaps his father and the quiet resentment with which he regarded his only son.

“Aw, shite...” He muttered to himself, wiping a wayward tear from a violet eye “Torturing meself now, aren’t I?”

“Fountain?” Griswold froze in place as a small voice spoke up from behind him. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end when he realised what the curse had chosen. “Why are you crying?” Griswold looked back. Suddenly, the other side of the tent was gone, the desert behind it vanished, a lush green plain appeared in its place, stretching over the horizon. He looked back, the rest of the tent had vanished. He’s left stranded in the middle of an infinite grassland, the sun shining down from a clear blue sky. The verdant plains roll in a nonexistent breeze, as griswold climbs to his feet, staring down at the monster summoned by the enchanted desert to torment him. A small human child, no more than eight. Her deep brown face, and inquisitive golden eyes gazing up at him, perplexed by his display, and dozens of long white braids falling out of an ill fitting leather helmet as they flow in time with the grass. Behind her three target dummies appear 10 feet away as if they’d been there all along, hay sticking out of scorch marks in the worn burlap.

“Are you ok?” she asks, her eyes locked with his. Griswold just manages to stammer out a response.

“A-Aye, child. ‘Course Rein…” Her name falls out of his mouth almost involuntarily “What are yeh doin’ here?”

She shrugs at him, her face an exaggerated mask of exasperation “I dunno! My mom says we have to practice again I guess...”

“Rein… dae yeh know where we are?”

“At home? Duh.” As she speaks the wooden enclosure of a pasture crops up in the distance, each section of fence growing off of it until it encloses them inside a massive green pasture. Griswold watches the fences crop up, turning as they pass him to see them connect at an impossibly red barn that has appeared. Further from the pasture stands a small farmhouse, the lights in the window off, and the curtains drawn. “You’re being weird” she tells Griswold matter of factly. As he turns back he sees the pasture is now filled with sheep, absentmindedly grazing, and paying little regard to the pair standing in their pasture.

“Apologies lass... me mind ran off on me. What… what were we workin’ on?” He asks, befuddled. She instantly perks up.

“Lightning!” she exclaims. She flails her hands with excitement making thunder noises with her mouth as she does.

“Riiight, I remember this one. Yeh get pretty good at lightning, don’t yeh?” He reminisces. She once again cocks her head to the side.

How do you know?” she asks

“I told yeh, “cause I remember it.” Rein rolls her eyes in an extremely dramatic gesture.

“You’re weird, fountain.” she perks up again “Can you just teach me lightning now?”

“Aye, ‘Course I can, lass” He kneels down next to her and motions for her to face the practice dummies. She narrows her eyes, thrusting her hand at the dummies.

“What do I do?” she asks eagerly.

“Hang on, hand me my wand.” He holds a hand out, and Rein obligingly produces the sleek cherry-wood wand seemingly from nowhere. Griswold takes it, the weight is exactly like his own, the silver engravings snaking up the shaft are just as he remembers them, even the smell is the same. “Coulda sworn I left this back in the desert...” he muses, mentally flipping through a lexicon of enchantments and illusions he could be under, and coming up with nothing.

“The desert?” Rein's face contorts into a mask of confusion.

“I think I may be in a desert...” He mused “Now watch what I do, keep an eye on me arm, aye?”

“Ohkaayy” She says skeptically. Griswold rolls up his sleeve, extending his wand toward one of the practice dummies. He breathes deeply through his nose, and an azure glow begins to form in his shoulder, coalescing into a jittering dot of lightning. In an instant It arks through his arm, and leaps out the end of his wand, a quick bolt crackles through the air, singeing another hole in the burlap dummy. He kneels down once more, as some of the sheep in the pen bleat lazily in objection, Riens eyes are wide with wonder.

“So, what did yeh see?” he asks the doe eyed little sorcerer.

“Umm, Lightning.” She asserts confidently.

“In me arm, Rien.”

She takes a moment, considering what she just saw.“It glowed? But not like when we do fire. It was faster.” Griswold smiles, and pats her on the shoulder.

“Right, now show me some fire.” He positions himself behind her, supporting her back and shoulders to make sure the blast doesn’t knock her back. Rien sighs dramatically.

“I thought we were doing lightning,” She huffs, declaring “I’m already good at fire.” Griswold laughs.

“I know yeh are, yeh bloody prodigy! I’m tryin’ ta show yeh somethin’!” Once again Rien obliges, a face of fierce concentration replacing her frown at not being able to cast lightning yet. She extends her hand, and a wave of orange light travels up her forearm, and leaps from her hand. A firebolt flies through the air, and shoots a hole through a dummy’s head. “Awe, c’mon you can go bigger than that!” Griswold teases from behind her. She fires several more, each more volatile than the last.

“Fountain?” she asks as fireballs spring from her fingertips.

“Aye, Rein?”

“What did you mean when you said you were in the desert?”

“Nothin’ at all, lass. Just a long gone memory.” He feels her tiny body pushed backwards as she slings flames at her target dummies, her own power threatening to take her off of her feet. “Now,” he tries to make his voice instructional and reassuring, “Lightning is a lot like fire, but yeh gotta hang onto the energy, smush it together, and then release it when yehr ready. It’s unpredictable, but it’s powerful. Yeh sure yehr ready?” She shuffles a bit in the dirt.

“Ok...” she mumbles. She tries to produce lightning several times to little effect. A few times a fireball sputters to life, sometimes the lightning flies through her arm, only for her to lose focus at the last moment, and produce only a shower of sparks.

She tries again,

And again,

And again.

Over the cacophony of casting, Griswold hears something. A small, quiet sniffling in between the sharp krak of attempted lightning.

Right, hold on a moment, Rien.” He interjects, “Let’s have ourselves a quick break.” he puts what he hopes is a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and walks around to once again be face to face with his student. A look of contorted frustration, and fear is painted on her face. Tears creep down her plump little cheeks as she tries to hold them back, and a tiny droplet of snot threatens to fall from her nostril. “It’s alright, pet. Yer doin great!” He praises, trying to reassure her, “At your age, I could barely summon up a sparkly cloud, let alone a firebolt! Yeh don’t need to be master o’ lightning right away.”

She nods, and throws her little arms around his neck. Griswold can feel tears soaking into the fibres of his shirt, as her body is racked with sobs. “I du- I do- I don’t want you to be in a desert!” she cries into his shirt.

Griswold can’t help but smile at her earnestness. “Why would I wanna go off to the desert when I got yeh right here?” She sniffles as she considers his question.

... I don’t know...” she mumbles into his shoulder. She breaks his embrace, and locks eyes with griswold. Her watery golden eyes seem to reach through his own and play havoc with his heartstrings. She sniffs, and holds out her pinky. “So you promise you won’t leave?”

The second the words leave her mouth, Griswold once again feels the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. His heart sinks deep into his stomach, and he can feel his throat constrict with shame and anxiety as he examines the hopeful face staring back at him. He desperately searches for any discrepancy, anything to make the illusion feel less real. A moment passes, and he can’t take it. A tear begins to roll down his own face as he clasps his pinky around hers.

Rien...” He spoke softly, his voice choked with shame “I would never leave you.”

Her hopeful gaze breaks into a beaming smile, and suddenly everything is gone. No more pasture, no more practice dummies, and no more Rien. Griswold is alone in his canvas tent, his pinky held out in front of him is clasped around nothing. The wind howls once more outside, as it tears over the desert landscape, drowning out even the sounds of a lone elf sobbing himself to sleep in his miserable little tent.

BIO: Easton Morsi is a writer operating just outside of San Antonio, Texas. When he’s not busy writing he spends his time trying to make it through college, playing tabletop RPG’s, and playing with his many dogs. He has a deep love for fiction in all of its forms, and hopes that one day his stories will be able to make it to anyone with a similar passion for fantastical worlds, and epic adventures.


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